The Value of Positive Civil Discourse in Making a More Perfect Union

Recently, I have been thinking about the nature, and value of, positive civil discourse while equally pondering the benefits of positive, nonviolent, civil disobedience. In our global village, we notice that few individuals and groups (of the billions of citizens on the planet), are choosing to express discontent and dissonance with political and governmental policies by engaging in violent demonstrations that often result in lost lives.

Even though opposing expressions to political ideologies and policies unnamedare not new, possibly, it is time to review and re-educate ourselves, and others, on the value of civil discourse, broadening our understandings,  and nonviolent civil disobedience that can also result in positive social change without the loss of human lives.

As long as there have been individuals and groups, there have also been disagreements-and sometimes violence to resolve those disagreements.  Some would argue, as societies continue to evolve technologically, it is equally important to help individuals and communities to develop their capacities for civil discourse, by recommending positive social actions that increase civil engagement, improve emotional intelligence, enhance the quality of life, and augment our understanding of global interdependence.

Many of us remember studying American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) and reading his 1849 thesis Civil Disobedience in which he contemplated the nature of civil disobedience–highlighting, in his opinion, the right of the individual to resist government action or policies that were blatantly against an individual’s moral values or conscience.  Thoreau’s notion, and practice of, positive civil disobedience eventually resulted in his being arrested for not paying a poll tax.  Thoreau resisted the tax because  it conflicted with his conscience.  He believed that the funds generated from the tax would be used to finance the Mexican War, a campaign which he vehemently opposed.  Thoreau, further, saw the war as a means to expand slave territories in the United States, and he considered such an immoral undertaking.

unnamed-1From Thoreau’s thesis it appears that he is not arguing for no government, but that he is imagining a “State at least which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it…” Even though it was penned over 100 years ago, Thoreau’s thesis reflects conflicts we continue to struggle with today.  He states further, “It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience.”

Without a doubt, America, and our global communities, have certainly changed a great deal since Thoreau’s thesis.  According to historians of civil disobedience, there have been many more examples of civil disobedience in which people, or movements, have changed policies and improved living conditions for communities, by employing varying degrees of civil disobedience to effect positive social outcomes.

Although they are too numerous to name, some prominent civil disobedience involved Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi (1869-1948), for his role in leading India to independence; Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), for his role in leading the nation’s peaceful Civil Rights Movement until his assassination; Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) for his role in organizing a labor union to protect the rights of workers; Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) for his role in protesting apartheid which, after his imprisonment of nearly 30 years, eventually led to world recognition, a Nobel Peace Prize, and anti-apartheid improvements; and many more individuals–known and unknown–who have led and continue to inspire non-violent civil disobedience.NOT_hate_Fotor

So, what does this tell us as leaders of organizations, communities, and families?  Some might argue that it is our responsibility to ensure that students, and developing adults, are exposed to stories of non-violent civil disobedience–hopefully to counterbalance the other reports of more violent ways to resolve conflicts that are broadcasted via various news and entertainment media.

As managers of businesses and observers of interpersonal interactions, there are daily opportunities for us to model civil engagement, civil discourse, and decision-making that demonstrates the value of engagement of a broad range of individuals and appreciation of more diverse perspectives. As leaders, we can not only listen to diverse opinions and solutions with respect and understanding, but we can also help others recognize the value of diverse viewpoints.

Ultimately, the family is probably the first place to form meaningful viewpoints about the individual’s responsibilities in society. Possibly Jackson-2_Fotorconversations that occur in family worlds should also encompass strategies for supporting and expressing disagreement in civil and non-violent ways.  Because the family is the basic building block of society, when families actively promote listening, tolerance, civil discourse, and awareness of other cultures, they offer a strong foundation for productive civil discourse and nonviolent positive social action in our larger global communities.

As leaders–be it in our families, our workplaces, our communities, our nation, or anywhere on our Earth–it is our critical responsibility to help each other work towards truly forming a more perfect union, the intention stated in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America.

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience, thesis, 1849

Special thanks to Geri R. Vital, MA

Thanksgiving is a time to pause and realize we can improve our collective lives

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Usually it is very easy to compose a Thanksgiving season blog.  This year, however, there have been many global disturbances in which humans have hurt other humans.  Further, the rhetoric of too many political candidates has left many of us wondering about the general assumptions some political organizations seem to believe about the intelligence of American voters.

Unfazed by the human tragedies and the political circus seem to be the Black Friday marketers–consumerism must go on, and this year it needs to be bigger than last year. So, cut your Thanksgiving family time short to save $ on something you probably do not really need anyway.

A quote from Charles Dickens 1859 novel depicting the climate prior to the French Revolution seems apropos:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

When considering our current situations in the world with its gaps of wealth, education, understanding, and alternate versions of history, it could be easy to succumb to melancholy and to lack faith that there will be a heightening of humanity and more evenness of global, human well-being.  Maybe this melancholy is the reason why some humans inflict pain on others .  As I was once told, “hurt people–hurt people.”

Yet, when considering the extensive list of things gone awry, it is the stories of hundreds of selfless individuals, and their mostly unheralded acts of courage, altruism, philanthropy, and love that fuel the optimism shared in some of our family worlds, our communities, and generally in America.

So, this Thanksgiving, I will wish the retail industry well, look into the faces of friends and relatives with hope and optimism, laugh at the stories of our past follies, and I will try not to gain too much weight from the Thanksgiving dinner, its leftovers, and the month long holiday season.

Because most of all, Thanksgiving is a time to affirm that we can improve our collective futures with genuine acts of kindness and awareness of our global connectivity.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

The Promise: Expanding Access to Community Colleges for the Public Good

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President Obama’s 2015, nearly New Year’s proposal, America’s College Promise, would offer free community college education to approximately 9 million students nationally. The Promise hinges on postsecondary academic performance and continuous progression towards degree completion. From the current national dialogue, it seems that the America’s College Promise proposal is an opportunity to examine the benefits versus costs of a community college education for most Americans. That is good.

No doubt, debates and perspectives on free community college programs will range from alarms to accolades depending on one’s frame of reference– potential student, politician, policy analyst, and so forth. As we know, President Obama announced the America College Promise at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee–where Governor Haslam announced Tennessee’s Promise last year that will be implemented with the 2015 entering community college class.

In the Tennessee Promise, the state agrees to pay the last dollar of community college tuition for two years for students who maintain at least a 2.5 GPA and satisfactory progress towards completion. What is possibly a very significant component of the Tennessee Promise proposal is that there will be mentors assigned to students, and students will be required to participate in community service. Mayor Rahm Emanuel of the City of Chicago has apparently also released a similar plan, the Chicago Star Scholarship, that promises free, last-dollar community college tuition for students who maintain a B average and qualify for college-level reading and math classes.

Why all the interest in assisting students to attend community colleges? Apparently the proposal for free community college goes back at least to 1947 and a commission’s report on higher education to President Harry Truman. Possibly, it is an idea whose time has come–or is past due. At any rate, the projected income of students who complete two years of college is estimated to be nearly a half a million dollars more, on average, in lifetime earnings than those without postsecondary education. Further, for supporters of these proposals, there is a projected benefit to society that out weighs costs. It will be good for America to have more educated citizens who are more appropriately prepared for current and future jobs in the workforce–a stronger economic attraction for businesses.

Yet, one theme that seems consistent in the various dialogues about free community college tuition is that such a benefit is not about to happen nationally for some time. No doubt, in the fall of 2015, and thereafter, the results of the Tennessee Promise and the Chicago Star Scholarships will be reviewed to determine if these promises are kept and do deliver the projected public good.

What, exactly, is so special about expanding access and affordability to community colleges? Like some of my higher education colleagues, I have been fortunate to earn tenure as an English instructor and serve as a dean, for a combined eight years, in two Chicago community colleges. It was at the community college that my love for teaching, and interacting with students, was born. Later, I earned the rank of full professor at a regional, best in the South, institution where I taught upper division courses–while also serving as an administrator.

Years later, as I recall the role community colleges played in educational opportunities, career readiness, and even in career exploration in my family, it occurred to me that we were actually a community college family. My husband earned one associate degree in art and started two others while working a full-time job. He used these years to explore career options, before completing a bachelor’s degree and, ultimately, a master’s degree in mass communication at major regional universities. He later worked as a graphic designer and taught communications in one community college and at three universities.

My late Mom earned her registered nursing degree from a community college; a degree that helped her buy, and pay for, our family’s house and support three children through college and many of life’s vicissitudes. Needless to say, pursuing higher education and delayed gratification became a cornerstone of our family world. Later in life, when Mom was in her early 60’s, she completed her B.S. degree at a university–just because it was a goal she was determined to attain. Mom stated she always enjoyed learning, and even though it took her about 6 years, she completed her baccalaureate degree while working as a nurse– after she had already worked as a registered nurse for several decades.

In my experiences as a young English composition instructor in a community college, I enjoyed interacting with the diverse students who saw a need for a college education in their lives. The Chicago community college that first introduced me to a career in higher education also introduced me to a range of international students, some who had already earned advanced degrees in their countries. Yet, when they immigrated to the United States, they needed to become more fluent in the English language and knowledgeable about American cultures. Interactions with these students broadened my global perspectives.

It would be hard to work in a community college, without admiring, or at least acknowledging, the thousands of students who seek degrees to gain specialized knowledge for a career, to change careers, or to increase their earning potential, all while juggling full or part-time jobs, families, and more complex lives than the more traditional undergraduates who are able to immerse themselves in the college lifestyle 24/7. Admittedly, there are also thousands of students who resemble traditional college students, but these students, for a variety of reasons chose a community college to save money, live at home, take a slower transition into the workforce or university environment, or other reasons too diverse to classify.

Perhaps the American community college is intricately linked to our lives as Americans similar to secondary education. Because we are a very diverse nation in which scientific and technological advances arrive in regular waves, an examination of the appeal and depth of community colleges seems appropriate to add to our national dialogue. Community colleges offer a range of citizens, or those seeking citizenship, an opportunity to 1) participate in a longer transition from secondary education to higher education; 2) engage in just in time learning for a new career, new job, or for knowledge; 3) schedule an educational experience around other life priorities such as families, full-time jobs, and other responsibilities; and 4) save money before transferring to a four-year college or university for higher degrees.

It is hard to drive past a community college without noticing its presence. Most community colleges resemble busy places (like shopping malls or good restaurants), and likewise, it is often hard to find a parking space because thousands of students are coming and going. If there is city or regional transportation, it also usually stops conveniently at the college. If you stand inside of a community college, some students will look like they just graduated from high school with their book bags, cell phones, and economy cars. These students might not have attained adequate academic preparation in secondary school, may not have confidence in their cognitive abilities, do not really know their interests, or are not really sure about the college experience–but they are there moving forward, expecting some clarification from the array of academic classes, certificate programs, and transfer options.

Other students know exactly why they are taking classes–they have a career or job plan that needs specialized knowledge, a credential, or certification such as a waste water operator certificate, emergency medical technician specifics, information technology game development skills, a paralegal certificate, and hundreds more. Many community colleges offer these programs in flexible terms, evenings, weekends, and many combinations of the aforementioned.

Possibly, community colleges are an essential component of our American lives similar to K-12 educational experiences. As we continue the dialogue on the benefits and costs of a free community college, hopefully, these examinations and discussions will include the breadth and depth of these institutions in family worlds.

Election Day–Voting is Fundamental

american-flag-sunset-1Some of our fellow citizens have already taken the opportunity to vote in early elections.   The fact that they have voted is good for America.

November 4, when most people, who will vote, will go to the polls is a very important day for the citizens of this country. I would not presume to give advice on any specific candidate or any specific race.   However, I do note that it is becoming increasingly difficult to discern political platforms amidst the negative attack advertisements on television and at political fund raising events. It is more important than ever before to get beyond the 30 second sound bites, that often cater to fears and stereotypes and to “do our homework” about each candidate before completing your responsibility to ensure our American legacy.

As I hear people talk about the candidates’ promises and the records of incumbent legislators, it seems that many citizens correlate being political with being dishonest and serving the interest of specific constituencies who help/helped them get elected. Thus, they do not pay much attention to the actual platforms, records, agendas, and promises of the candidates. This is not good for us as citizens.

As citizens, it is my opinion, that it is our responsibility to vote for candidates who will exemplify our core values and improve the quality of life for us and for our children. Thus, it is important to review the work of candidates on a daily basis, so that we can make the most intelligent decisions possible when we go to the polls.   It is very important, also in my opinion, for us to push pass the emotionally charged words and half-truths, so that we will not be surprised about results we will experience in employment trends, educational funding, environmental sustainability, or social security changes (and so forth) when the candidates actually take office and move forth on their agendas.

As stated by Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863, it is our responsibility each day to ensure “that this nation… shall have a new birth of freedom–and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Voting is fundamental in maintaining America.

 

Learning for a Lifetime of Choices

Refined from President’s blog

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A little while ago, I had lunch with a childhood friend, Marlene.  We have been friends since we were both thirteen years old, and that has been decades ago. Our lifelong friendship began on the Southside of Chicago where we discovered personal commonalities, as we explored the public libraries together and devised many less intellectual adventurers.  On a Wednesday in November 2013,  we met in Union Station in Washington, D. C., and it was indeed a reunion of epic proportions.  Between the two of us there were four children–all with college degrees.    It was our prayer, and our spouses’ too, that we had prepared these talented young adults to lead responsible, worthwhile, and altruistic lives.

When we looked into each other’s faces, we bore witness to a half century of American societal forces that had shaped the lives, and choices of two women who grew-up with limited resources, but who dreamed of nearly endless possibilities.  My friend earned a MBA from a big ten university, and I earned a PhD from a top-ranked national university.  Besides the fact that both of us have done well, by American standards, we also gained so much more from our college experiences than the academic content and subsequent jobs.  The value of our higher education included exposure to options, consideration of diverse perspectives,  and development of skill sets beyond our imaginations.

As we seek to grapple with the finances surrounding colleges and universities, the debate about the value of colleges and universities has reached a louder pitch with proponents on all sides.   As states struggle with competing priorities for revenue, and the economic recovery continues, there is more concern about the value of a college education in relationship to the cost of attendance.  While nearly half of my college experience included the private and well-regarded University of Chicago, it still does seem possible for students to choose from a range of institutions which correlate, as closely as possible, with their family and financial support systems.

Now I know that from a lifelong learner and educator, much of what I think about the value of a college education could be discounted–since I liked learning so much–it did not occur to me to leave the college/university  structured community of learners.  However,  as my friend and I shared stories in Union Station, it also occurred to me how fortunate we have both been to have spent so much time learning from the perspectives of others,  and how our expanded worldviews had influenced the activities we engaged in with our children and probably the choices and lives of our children and their future grandchildren. It seems that an expanded worldview is in itself a legacy–possibly just as precious as an inheritance of a land estate.

Engaging in various structured classroom or hybrid learning experiences also seems to help build a sense of confidence in the learners.  Without a doubt this confidence can be gained from other experiences rather than a college experience, but the efficiency and sequencing of these experiences in a college environment might take years to acquire without the talented and caring professors serving as learning guides.

Thus, one value of colleges and universities, is that we offer options to assist learners enjoy a lifetime of choices and to leave a legacy of options.